Police Benevolent Association Ex-President in Miami Pleads Guilty to Fraud

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Miami at nightCops normally make arrests for theft. Vernell Reynolds, a former police officer with the City of Miami, turned out to be an arrestee. And one day - should it ever arrive - she'll likely go to prison. On April 25, Reynolds pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to fraud and tax evasion relating to her embezzlement in excess of $200,000 from her union, the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association (MCPBA), which represents black law enforcement officers in the Miami-Dade County area and which she headed. She had been indicted and arrested in January 2012. Though originally scheduled for sentencing in July, and then again in August, no record of any sentence could be found. The U.S. Attorney's Office this week was unable to provide updated information. That may be the way Reynolds prefers it.

Back on January 6, federal prosecutors announced a 16-count indictment of Reynolds for wire fraud handed down the previous day. Reynolds, now 47, a resident of Hollywood, Fla., apparently had used her union's two credit union accounts as her own slush fund. Having become president of the local PBA in 2005, during September 2008-June 2010 she used an association-issued debit card to make unauthorized cash withdrawals for her personal use. Following that, she falsified financial reporting forms. Gambling likely explained most of the thefts. Court records show that fully thirteen of the withdrawals were made at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood, Fla.; another was made at an Indian-owned casino in California. A joint investigation by the IRS, the FBI, the Department of Labor and the City of Miami Police Department led to the conclusion that Reynolds had stolen PBA credit union funds. She was fired from the police force shortly thereafter.

At her guilty plea, Reynolds admitted to fraud in an amount of between $30,000 and $70,000, but agreed to pay $210,000 in restitution to the association. One of her lawyers, Peter Raben, believes she deserves leniency come sentencing time. "Even good and strong people battle demons and sometimes fail," he said of his client at the April plea hearing. "Vernell is remorseful and embarrassed by what has happened, and hopes that someday those who relied upon her and are disappointed in her will come to understand and forgive." But working up that spirit of forgiveness may be difficult. For one thing, her reported income for each of 2007 and 2008 was more than $140,000 - not exactly poverty-level. For another, she also faces state criminal charges filed in March 2011 relating to falsification of tax returns. According to current MCPBA President Stanley Jean-Poix, her former fellow officers have expressed "not much sympathy [but] a lot of anger."

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Miami Police Association President Indicted for Embezzlement